Eight things I love about printmaking
Updated: May 24, 2021
I'm a fairly recent convert to printmaking. Until a couple of years ago, it wasn't really clear to me what printmaking involved. It all seemed like a bit of a dark art - complicated, and requiring lots of expensive equipment and hazardous substances.
So why do it? Why go to the trouble of applying ink to one surface, only to transfer it to another, when you might just as well apply it directly with a pen or brush? Here, in no particular order, are my top eight reasons why I think printmaking is amazing:
1. It makes original art accessible to more people. Once a plate has been created, producing prints from it is a relatively quick process (I say relatively, because some plates can take hours to ink and wipe, especially those that use several colours). Therefore, a printmaker can usually produce more work and sell it at a lower price than, say, a painter.
2. It forces you to be bold and decisive. For every element of the image, you have to decide which tonal group it belongs to - is it light, midtone, or dark? There is no room for the indecision that can easily ruin a painting. Being forced to group everything into a limited range of tonal values gives prints a certain boldness and conviction.
3. It gives the image cohesion. That's especially true for monochrome prints - because the ink is applied to all parts of the image in the same way, everything seems to just hang together. I find this much harder to achieve in a painting.
4. Creative block needn't stop you. As I see it, making plates is an art, and inking, wiping and printing them is more of a craft. If you're not feeling particularly inspired, you can still be creative - just get on with the printing part.
5. It's easier to reserve judgement. When you are making a plate, you are essentially working blind. You try to imagine how the print will look, but until you run it through the press and peel back the paper, you just don't know. Your inner critic has to shut up and let you get on with making the work.
6. It's very experimental. With every print, I discover something new. The failed prints in particular often have some really interesting sections. I cut them out, stick them in a notebook, and write down what happened - quite scientific, really! Then, when an image calls for it, I'll try to produce that effect on purpose.
7. It forces you to simplify. Simplifying an image means stripping away unnecessary detail to get to the essence of a subject. And isn't that what art is all about?
8. There's a big reveal at the end. Once I've varnished my plate, I need to wait 24 hours before I can print from it. Waiting impatiently for something that you hope will be good is really rather lovely, and perhaps something we don't do enough any more.